The first on-track experience for students is following an instructor's car around for 10
When the Cale Yarborough Executive Racing School (ERS) called about Circle Track attending its two-day school and writing a story about my experiences, my first question to them was, "What distinguishes you from all the other schools?" I was told the school was a place to learn how to race, not a place for a cool ride or a few laps around the track following an instructor. But the two-day experience I embarked on actually taught me the fundamentals of racing a car through instructors who are, or have been, successful professional drivers from a range of diverse racing backgrounds. Oh yeah, I was also told we would end up driving at least 130 laps over the two days. I was sold.
ERS and the Track The ERS racing school has something for everyone,regardless of skill level. It offers some of the usual stuff like 10-lap rides and half-day schools that most of the other schools do. But when you get into the two-day program and beyond, you really begin to learn how to race.
The goal of the ERS is to provide those who would like to learn how to race, a place to learn without having to buy a race car and all the equipment that goes with it. The two-day class is just the beginning. If you do well enough (meaning you don't destroy the cars or run over any instructors), you could be invited back for the one-day advanced class, and then the hot-laps session. Once you have completed the required classes you will be eligible to race in a sanctioned race put on by the school once a month.
ERS is based at USA International Speedway in Lakeland, Fla., about halfway between Tampa and Orlando. USA International is a lightning-fast, three-quarter-mile high-banked track. It hosts the American Speed Association, USAR Hooters ProCup, NASCAR All Pro and Goody's Dash Series.
Class begins The two-day class began with a trip to the media tower where the instructors and other school officials greeted us. We had to sign release forms and change into our driving uniforms, which were set up nicely in individual areas with our names on our equipment. This was our personal changing spot for the next two days.
Once we were all outfitted, we sat down for some classroom instruction. The head instructor was veteran stock car driver Lee Faulk, who talked to us about how to run the car around the track-when to lift, brake and turn into the corners and when to get back on the gas. One of Faulk's commands was for us to stay down on the yellow line around the bottom of the corners. It was getting time to strap in and go.
The classroom portion was over in about 45 minutes. We were then paired up with an instructor. My instructor turned out to be Edward Howell, a legend of Florida short-track racing and winner of a NASCAR Goody's Dash race at Bristol. Howell would have the daunting task of making me into a rookie race car driver over two short days. Poor guy had his hands full.
In action .. finally Faulk piled us into a van and took us around the track. The idea behind the ride was to show us what line to take and where to lift off the gas and when to get back in it ... and also to stay down on the yellow line! The van ride was the scariest part of the two days. I know it sounds like it shouldn't be, but trust me. I swear we were on two wheels through part of the ride!
After making it back-alive-from the van ride, we were each given a 10-lap ride with an instructor to acclimate ourselves to the speed, noise and environment of the race car. Our first driving action of the day would be to follow an instructor's car around the track, slowly gaining speed and confidence over a 10-lap run.
After following the instructor's car around, it was now time to go solo. Some of my classmates looked painfully anxious. My stomach was tangled up in knots, too, so of course I was the first to go out.
That first 10-lap solo drive was so many things: exhilarating and yet terrifying all at the same time. There were so many things to remember-lift, brake, turn and don't crash in front of all these people. The adrenaline and "pucker factor" were pretty high at this point.
We continued learning and racing in 10- to 15-lap intervals over the next day and a half, with an occasional break for lectures from Faulk. While we got plenty of leeway to learn and race from the instructors, if we operated outside the bounds they set, we would be black-flagged and brought down pit road for consultation.
Instructors One of the components that most impressed me about the school was the instructors.
My instructor, Edward Howell, was the perfect combination of instructor and comedian. While I was not the hot shoe of the class, Howell made me feel as though I was. More important than their knowledge and experience was the instructors' ability to make you feel comfortable and let you learn at your own speed during an experience that was for most of us fun, but stressful.
Perhaps the words of the head instructor can sum up what the ERS school is all about. "Honestly, what separates us from any other school out there is that you can actually learn how to race," says Faulk. "It's not just a buy-and-ride school. We have a lot of experienced instructors, and between all the instructors and myself, if you can't learn or pick up on something here at this school to actually go to a racetrack and race, you're not really paying attention. This is an actual racetrack where you do get to race. You do get to race the school cars without any instructors. I think we're the only school that allows you to do that. With the instructor base we have to pull from, you really can actually learn how to race a race car."
ERS General Manager Margi Nanney is the glue that holds everything together. At any one moment she could be giving one of us a wet towel to stay cool, arranging lunch and dinner plans for all, as well as many of the other administrative tasks that needed attention. If you attend the school, you will no doubt be pleasantly surprised at the lengths she and the staff will go to make ERS the racing experience of your lifetime.
What They're DrivingThe cars fielded by the Cale Yarborough Executive Racing School are 2,600-pound Limited Late Models built by Floridian Jimmy Cope. They feature a stock front clip and leaf springs on the rear, and the engines in the cars are Chevrolet ZZ4 crate engines developing around 420 hp. Top speed is around 125 mph in school trim.
Cars used for instruction have a 5,900-rpm computer chip in them, while the school's new professional racing series, the EROC Series, uses a 6,200-rpm chip. The cars, which carry Chevrolet Monte Carlo sheetmetal, ride on Goodyear Eagle 2402 tires.
The two-day school described here costs $2,495 and includes food, lodging and 130 laps of driving.